Why is Organisational Culture Important?


Three Case Studies of Culture

Organisational culture as a concept has been around for several years now. Despite on-going debate about what actually constitutes an organisation’s ‘culture’, everyone seems to agree on one thing: culture matters. The three examples below, highlight the profound and nuanced effects an organisational culture can carry with it.

1) Australian Olympic Swimming Team

Australia has traditionally been very successful in Olympic swimming, though they only managed to win one gold medal at London 2012, despite being tipped for success again. An independent review found that the team’s culture, became to be underpinned by a lack of moral authority and discipline. The culture had been described as a ‘toxic’ one, whereby bullying and intimidation was rife, but often under the radar. This highlights not only how culture can change, but also how an organisation’s culture extends beyond the preached values and attitudes to the under the radar practices and behaviours. What is your organisation’s culture like under the radar?

2) Toshiba

Toshiba’s organisational culture is reported as being one that is based on pride and honour. Although these values might seem to be positive ones, there’s evidence to suggest that they in fact have toxic shadows. For instance, a recent BBC article, highlights that the company has overstated its profits for the past six years. One of the reasons reported was that managers would overstate their profits, because if they did not meet their leaders’ expectations, their pride and honour was at stake. Just as individuals might have derailers, or strengths which can become weaknesses if overplayed, it seems that the values of pride and honour may have become derailers for Toshiba. Might your organisation’s culture have a shadow side?

3) DreamWorks Animation

Quite opposite to Toshiba, the leaders of DreamWorks Animation strive to foster innovation through encouraging employees to take risks. The organisation has tried to build a culture full of spontaneous conversation, with the premise that these lead to great ideas. It does this through serving free food throughout the day to all its employees, as well as providing picnic tables and other areas to relax in. Risk-taking and spontaneous conversations as a source of innovation might be a good idea in one sector, but it most certainly wouldn’t be in other organisations where some risks could put lives at harm, such as the energy industry. This highlights how a one-size-fits-all approach to culture should be avoided.

These three examples highlight the nuanced, but nonetheless profound effects, which an organisational culture can have. More specifically, these examples highlight that there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to a ‘good’ culture, and that the true effects of culture can only be understood through a thorough understanding of what it means for the people who work in it.


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